Is Cypress A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass


Guitars are made of numerous different parts, many of which are made of wood. The choice of wood in the guitar body (the solid body and laminate in electric guitars and the sides, back and top of acoustic guitars), neck and fretboard all contribute to the overall playability, feel and, of course, tone of the instrument. Since cypress is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.

Is cypress a good guitar tonewood? Cypress is a superb tonewood for classical guitar backs and sides due to its fast attack, bright tone and clarity that works well with nylon string fingerstyle playing. However, its lack of resonance and projection makes it a poor solidbody or top wood, and it’s too soft for necks and fretboards.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how cypress tonewood is used in electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitar construction with a keen focus on its tone.

Note: in my research for this article, I used Sweetwater’s extensive guitar database to find examples of guitars with cypress in their construction. The links to the guitars in this article will send readers to Sweetwater’s site for more information. Sweetwater is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Online Audio Gear/Equipment Retailers.


Table Of Contents


Characteristics Of Cypress Tonewood

Cypress comprises many different tonewoods from the family Cupressaceae. Within this family are a variety of genera that are referred to as cypress, though the “true cypress” tonewoods are specifically from multiple species within the genus Cupressus. That being said, we should consider all the common “cypress” tonewoods from the family Cupressaceae within this article.

Here are a few true cypresses (in the genus Cupressus) that are considered tonewoods:

  • Mediterranean/Spanish cypress (Cupressus sermpervirens)
  • Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa)

Here are a few “false” cypresses (in the family Cupressaceae but not in the genus Cupressus) that are considered tonewoods:

  • Canadian cypress / Yellow Alaskan Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis)
  • Lawson’s cypress / Port Orford Cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana)
  • Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

We’ll discuss the Mediterranean/Spanish, Monterey and bald cypress tonewoods in greater detail. For more information on the cedar tonewoods listed above (yellow Alaskan and Port Orford), check out my article Is Cedar A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass.

Let’s begin with Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), which is also known as Italian, Tuscan, Persian or Spanish cypress, and even as “pencil pine,” though it’s certainly not a pine (from the genus Pinus). This tonewood is widespread, native to southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Mediterranean cypress is a pale yellowish or reddish-brown. Its grain is largely straight, though small knots often alter the grain. The wood’s texture is fine and uniform. Mediterranean cypress is relatively easy to work (with both hand and machine tools) thanks to its softness. However, tear-out can be common due to the knots in the wood. It glues and finishes well, though steam bending is a challenge.

As a tonewood, Mediterranean cypress is clean and bright with articulate attack and low sustain. It’s not the most projecting wood, but rather it delivers a percussive tone with impressive clarity. This softwood is, therefore, a cherished option for classical guitar tops.

Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) is native to California and also grows in New Zealand, where it is known as macrocarpa. Its pale-yellow-to-reddish-brown colour is slightly darker than Mediterranean cypress. Its grain is straight, though small knots will affect its pattern. The texture is fine and uniform.

Like its Mediterranean counterpart, Monterey cypress is easy to work with hand and machine tools. It’s soft and malleable, though tear-out can be an issue due to the knots. It glues and finishes well, though steam bending is difficult. In harsher growing conditions, Monterey cypress will hold a lot of tension, which can cause warping after it’s cut. Otherwise, it’s a relatively stable wood.

As a tonewood, Monterey cypress is articulate and sharp with little sustain. It offers a bright tone with a clear, crisp midrange and high-end response along with a strong but immediate low-end. Monterey and Mediterranean cypress sound very much the same, though Monterey cypress is stronger.

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is also referred to as swamp cypress, white cypress, tidewater red cypress, gulf cypress and red cypress. It is native to the southeastern United States and, as a piece of trivia, is the official state tree of Louisiana.

Bald cypress isn’t a true cypress tonewood, though it has similar hardness and density to Mediterranean and Monterey tonewood. It’s stiffer than the other two but is rarely used in guitar building.

As a tonewood, bald cypress can be described as warm and mellow by its fans but is largely ignored as a serious tonewood for commercially-viable instruments.

None of the aforementioned cypress tonewoods are listed in the CITES Appendices. Mediterranean and Monterey cypress are both on the IUCN Red List, though neither are considered vulnerable or endangered species.

Here are a few notable specs of the various types of cypress tonewoods discussed above:

  • Type: Mediterranean/Spanish cypress
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: pale yellowish or reddish brown
  • Grain: usually straight
  • Texture: fine, uniform
  • Density: 535 kg/m3 / 33.40 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,490 N / 560 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 5.28 GPa / 766,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Monterey cypress
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: pale yellowish or reddish brown
  • Grain: usually straight, sometimes knotty
  • Texture: fine, uniform
  • Density: 515 kg/m3 / 32.15 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,750 N / 618 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 7.81 GPa / 1,133,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: high
  • Type: Bald cypress
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: pale yellowish brown
  • Grain: usually straight
  • Texture: medium to coarse, uniform
  • Density: 515 kg/m3 / 32.15 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,270 N / 510 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.93 GPa / 1,440,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Canadian cypress (yellow Alaskan cedar)
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: light yellow
  • Grain: usually straight, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: uniform, medium to fine
  • Pores: ring-porous to diffuse-porous
  • Density: 495 kg/m3 / 30.9 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,580 N / 580 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.79 GPa / 1,420,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: high
  • Type: Lawson’s cypress (Port Orford cedar)
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: light yellowish brown
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: uniform, medium to fine
  • Pores: ring-porous to diffuse-porous
  • Density: 465 kg/m3 / 29.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,620 N / 560 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.35 GPa / 1,646,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: high

Sources: wikipedia.org and wood-database.com

Here are links to the official website of the IUCN and Cites:
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)


Is Cypress A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?

Before we begin, I should mention that tonewoods don’t have nearly as much of an effect on the overall sound of an electric guitar as they do on an acoustic guitar. The guitar pickups, strings, the signal chain and the amplifier all play a huge role in the overall tone of an electric guitar. It’s not all about the wood, though it is a factor.

Though cypress is a softwood that could be a viable option for electric guitar bodies, it’s generally only ever used in experimental builds and never seen on a commercial level. The variety of cypress woods are often considered too soft and not nearly resonant enough for use in electric guitars.

Is Cypress A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Though cypress is a viable option for electric guitar solid bodies, it’s barely ever considered. Its tone is bright but perhaps overly articulate for a solid body. When it comes to hollowbody designs, there are plenty of more popular options on the market with greater sustain.

Is Cypress A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Cypress is too soft, weak and liable to bend for proper use in electric guitar neck builds.

Is Cypress A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Cypress is generally considered not dense or strong enough to use as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Cypress A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Though cypress is rarely ever used in acoustic guitar builds, it’s an option worth considering in classical guitars and is particularly cherished in flamenco-style guitars.

Is Cypress A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?

When cypress is used in guitar-making, it’s nearly always incorporated as the back and sides material for classical guitars. This is partly due to the history of classical guitars being made of Spanish cypress and partly because it sounds great as the body material.

Even though it’s notoriously difficult to bend, it is chosen as a back and sides tonewood for its light and clean sound and bright, percussive tone. So long as the wood isn’t overloaded with volume (it’s best suited for fingerpicking), it will offer a rich character with clean, fast attack and low resonance, giving it incredible clarity.

Examples of acoustic guitars with cypress backs and sides:

Is Cypress A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Though cypress is a well-known back and sides material, it is unpopular as a top option.

The same percussive attack that brings clarity from the back and sides can hinder the volume of the guitar when cypress is used as a top. In classical guitars, cedar (which admittedly is often confused with cypress) is the number one choice since it’s louder and stronger.

Is Cypress A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Cypress is too soft, weak and liable to bend for proper use in acoustic guitar neck builds.

Is Cypress A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Cypress is generally considered not dense or strong enough to use as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Cypress A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Cypress can be a viable option for solidbody bass guitar bodies but is practically ignored by large and small shops alike. There are plenty of superior options for tone and resonance, particularly in the low-end frequencies, rendering cypress a relatively poor tonewood.

Like the aforementioned guitars, cypress is impractical for bass necks and fretboards as well.


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides cypress. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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